Eight years after he was ousted from power, former president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak took many by surprise when he appeared in a YouTube video on 15 October to talk about his memories of the October 1973 War.
In the 25-minute video, which was uploaded to a new YouTube channel called “Mubarak Archives”, the 91-year-old Mubarak spoke about the lead-up to the October War (known in the West as the Yom Kippur War) and his role as commander of Egypt’s Air Force. Mubarak recalled memories of the 1967 War with Israel and the efforts to rebuild the Egyptian Armed Forces under former president Anwar Al-Sadat. In the video Mubarak did not mention a single word about former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, even though the latter promoted him in 1969 to chief of staff of the Air Force.
This is not the first time Mubarak recalls the 1967 and 1973 wars. The first came in a TV interview with high-profile anchor Emadeddin Adib during the 2005 presidential election campaign. At that time, Mubarak told Adib where he was serving when the war erupted on 5 June 1967 and how his warplane was about to run out of fuel before it landed safely at Luxor Airport. “Just 15 or 20 minutes after I landed, the Israeli fighters hit Luxor Airport and I escaped death,” Mubarak said. Mubarak’s 2005 memoirs were later collected in a book The Memories of My Life.
Political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb notes that Mubarak’s decision to appear on YouTube “came natural and by no means surprising”. A court of appeals cleared Mubarak of any charges of involvement in killing hundreds of protesters during the 2011 Revolution.
Also, the fact that neither Mubarak nor any of the members of his family fled the country after his ouster in 2011 made many Egyptians change their view of him in a positive way, according to Abu Taleb.
“To many, Mubarak is different from Tunisia’s former dictator Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali who fled his country and died in Saudi Arabia one month ago, or Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi or Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh who were killed after they refused to cede power,” Abu Taleb said.
“The harsh economic conditions which Egypt faced over the past three years pushed many to recall the days of cheap prices, flourishing tourism, total security and economic growth under Mubarak,” he added.
Moreover, the fact that Egypt’s incumbent president, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, was the former minister of defence and a former military man, was another reason which encouraged Mubarak to appear in the video and not just to recall memories, Abu Taleb added.
In the video, Mubarak suggested that the aim of his speech was to help the Egyptian Armed Forces regain their confidence in themselves, and for the people to regain their trust in their Armed Forces in the same way when the Armed Forces were able to recapture confidence after the Naksa (the 1967 setback against Israel) and launched the victorious war of 1973.
The celebration of the 1973 October War in Egypt came this year after the country faced a hostile two-week media campaign led by a number of Muslim Brotherhood-linked television channels broadcasting from Turkey and Qatar urging Egyptians to protest against the government and the army. Mubarak said his speech “aimed to remind Egyptians of the extent of the sacrifices made by the October generation of army officers to erase the consequences of defeat.”
It was also clear that Mubarak’s older son, Alaa, played a role in convincing his father to appear in the video. Alaa Mubarak had been sharing old footage of his father in the past few weeks to mark the 46th anniversary of the October War. Alaa, along with others on social media, had criticised what they called “attempts made by certain authorities and media organisations to ignore Mubarak’s role in the October War”. Alaa also paved the way for his father’s appearance through a message on Twitter and used the same account to share a brief clip of the video that was posted on YouTube. “When Mubarak was in power, his younger son Gamal was the one who was in the limelight, while Alaa was not interested in politics,” said Abu Taleb. “But now with Mubarak out of power, it is the eldest son Alaa who is now very active on social media while Gamal chose to disappear.”
The last time Mubarak was seen in public was in December last year when he made a court appearance to testify in a mass jailbreak case involving former president Mohamed Morsi. At that time, Mubarak looked in good health, with his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, accompanying him in court.
In the new Arabic-language video, Mubarak showed signs of ageing in appearance, and at times was not able to construct long sentences.
As Mubarak speaks, a book by Henry Kissinger, Crisis: The Anatomy of Two Major Foreign Policy Crises, sits on a table next to him and a portrait of him in military gear hangs on the wall above it. The book by Kissinger, the former US secretary of state from 1973-1977 contains unpublished transcripts of his telephone conversations during the October War.
At the start of the video, Mubarak said “to begin with, I must talk about the late president Anwar Al-Sadat, who took the decision to go to war. He was a very brave and courageous man. Today we celebrate the 6 October War victory, the same date Sadat was killed, and I have to salute him.” Mubarak added, “Sadat’s decision was courageous and it boosted the morale of the officers and soldiers after the 1967 Naksa.”
Mubarak then spoke about the days leading up to the October War, and how he and a very small number of commanders knew beforehand when it would start. “We and a number of Syrian officers met in Alexandria in August 1973 and chose the date of 6 October to wage our joint war against Israel,” said Mubarak, adding that “it was very important that we take Israel by surprise and launch the first strike because this meant a lot to us and before Israel could move to mobilise its reserves.”
Mubarak said, “the first air strikes at 2pm on Saturday, 6 October, were very successful and the warplanes carried out their missions completely and the morale was unprecedentedly high. “When I informed Sadat on the phone of the success of the first air strike, he nervously shouted, ‘We have won the war, guys.’”
Mubarak also recalled a 53-minute battle between Egyptian and Israeli fighters on 14 October 1973. “I was informed that a large number of Israeli fighters had come via the Mediterranean and by flying low had struck Mansoura air base in the Nile Delta. Soon we mobilised and around 100 fighters from the two sides faced one of the biggest air force battles in history,” Mubarak said, adding that “in this battle, the Israelis lost 18 planes, and we lost just four.”
Speaking on the 1967 War, Mubarak said “we were hit without any warning or a plan. That defeat deeply shook Egyptians and triggered outrage against their leaders at the time. As a result, no army personnel could appear in uniform in public. We stayed for three months without leaving our airports. Therefore, we decide to take revenge (against the Israelis). We had no choice but to go to war to regain our dignity.”
Mubarak also spoke about the Israeli incursion into the west bank of the Suez Canal on 15 October in what was called the thaghra (crack). “We knew of this and the Air Force and army were mobilised to destroy this Israeli incursion,” Mubarak said.
Mubarak received training in the Soviet Union between 1964 and 1967. Just a few months before the war, he was appointed Air Force commander of an air base in Upper Egypt’s governorate of Beni Sweif. “I believe I was in an operation centre in mid-May  and I returned to the airport where they informed me that a state of emergency had been announced.
“A commissioner from the General Command came on 3 June and said that there was a political demonstration and that we would send troops to Sinai. The division’s leader had no idea who was going in or out.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.